Rough waters: 2012 Chinese contemporary art market round up

Has the Chinese contemporary art market hit bottom? We examine the ideas presented at a local art summit, Hong Kong art auction results and reports from leading analysts.

On 22 December 2012, the art media group 99 Art Network hosted the Third China Art Market Summit Forum in Beijing. The forum looked at a number of topics and trends in China’s art market, ultimately coming up optimistic despite the economic downturn that  hit Chinese galleries and auction houses in 2012.

Photo from Chinese auction house Poly Auction's inaugural Hong Kong auction in November, 2012.

The forum was divided into three main topics: the auction market, market development and art collection. For the talk, dozens of prominent figures from the Chinese gallery and auction world were invited to speak on the state of the market at the tail end of 2012. The forum was attended by over two hundred professionals from galleries, auction houses and academia.

99 Art Network released a summary of the talks on their website, noting that despite the general downturn, many remained optimistic for the future of the Chinese art market, calling 2012 merely “a year of deep adjustment” and adding that the long-term prospects of the Chinese art market are still very strong. According to the article (translated from Chinese),

The segment host [Central Academy Fine Arts (CAFA) Art Market Research Centre Professor] Zhao Li first tossed out a question to the collectors participating in the discussion: How should we view the current market?


[Collector] Zhu Shaoliang said that the talk of recession or crash around the current art market is purely ridiculous. The art market adjustment must be judged by looking at total quantity and quality. … The four ‘great collecting clans’ have not let up their pursuit of artworks. Their collecting activity is not influenced by economic circumstance; if good objects emerge, they will definitely be interested. The reason there have been some mid-to-low grade objects at auction is because of the strong, destructive force produced by investors and speculators[, he continued.]

The forum participants went on to discuss a number of other issues and major developments in the art market, including the growth of Chinese auction houses internationally and the adjustment of the country’s notoriously high tax on luxury goods like art.

The forum comes at the tail of a notably weak year for Chinese art. 2012 started out with a whimper for Chinese art at auction, with collectors showing a strong trend towards modern over contemporary works at the Christie’s spring Hong Kong sale. The difficulties for the contemporary sector continued at the Sotheby’s Hong Kong sale a week later. A whopping 35 percent of works went unsold, and blue-chip artists like Wang Guangyi and Zhang Huan underperformed. At the same auction, Japanese and Southeast Asian artwork sold very well, implying that the market downturn may be specific to China.

Auction results only worsened in the Hong Kong autumn 2012 sale. Art Radar Founder and Executive Editor Kate Cary Evans was in attendance for the Sotheby’s auction and noted that Chinese art “bombed” at the sale. While not quite as lacklustre, Chinese contemporary art also underperformed at Christie’s Contemporary Art evening sale a month later.

Some analysts and researchers are also sounding the alarm bells. In June of 2012, ArtTactic reported that “results from spring 2012 [art auction] sales exhibit[ed] signs of a slowing market“. The research firm followed up on those results in November,

Confidence in the Chinese contemporary art market looks increasingly fragile as the ArtTactic Chinese Art Market Confidence Indicator drops 35 percent from May 2012. The overall Confidence Indicator is now standing at 49, down from 76.


This is the first time the Confidence Indicator has fallen into negative territory since the launch in February 2009. A reading of 49 (Indicator level below 50), means that the current sentiment in the Chinese contemporary art market is now split evenly between experts that remain positive about the market and those that feel increasingly pessimistic about the current market situation.


However, this sudden dip in confidence could be short-lived, as the Expectation Indicator (current reading 58) sits 44 percent above the Current Indicator (reading of 40), which signals that the respondents are more positive about the next six months than they are today. It is clear that the outcome of the auctions in Hong Kong and Beijing later this month and December will set the tone and direction for the market next year.

How do you think the Chinese art market will shape up in 2013? Leave us a comment with your thoughts below.


Related Topics: market watch – auctions, forums, Chinese art and artists, market watch – recession

Related Posts:

Subscribe to Art Radar for more on the contemporary Chinese art market


Rough waters: 2012 Chinese contemporary art market round up — 1 Comment

  1. Has the Chinese contemporary art market hit bottom? Who cares? The value or success of art should not be judged by its monetary value, but rather by its creativity, its ability to provoke, its innovativeness, its aesthetic appeal. So long as people in China continue to make art that’s interesting, beautiful, thought-provoking, politically activist, playful/snarky, that’s what’s important. Not the arbitrary dollar signs (yuan signs) attached to these works by the market.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.